The Council has been one of the most surprising and enjoyable experiences this year – so much so that it is currently a contender for my Game of the Year. I’ve loved my time exploring the lavish halls of Lord Mortimer’s mansion in search of answers while using the power of rhetoric to prise information out of and win over Mortimer’s affluent and distinguished guests. The previous four episodes have built a world of grandeur lathered with faux history, compelling plot twists and enigmas, creating a storytelling crescendo that comes to an end in Episode 5: Checkmate. While the narrative’s conclusion is strong enough, I couldn’t help but feel pangs of disappointment as to how the final stanza had played out.
How does it all end for Louis de Richet?
Previously each episode has provided a good spread of storytelling, exploration, puzzles and Confrontations (the main gameplay hook), with some excelling more than others. Last time around we were treated to another big twist and were forced to make a couple of game-changing decisions. Checkmate starts with our sideburn-sporting protagonist Louis de Richet having to win a number of Mortimer’s guests support for an important project that had been discussed at Mortimer’s conference in the previous episode. While the engaging storytelling, puzzle-solving and Confrontation elements are all present, it feels like a much more passive experience compared to previous episodes.
For example, all I had to do to convince one of the characters to join my cause was to speak to them, while some others required me to succeed in my objective via shorter Confrontation battles. In a way it felt like the game was ushering me to the finish line, determined not to overstay its welcome, but it felt like a bit of fizzer after all the momentum the previous episodes had gathered.
Confrontations are less meaningful this time around
The disappointment isn’t levelled at the game’s story and writing, which again is one of the standout elements in Checkmate. The narrative manages to test your allegiance right until the very end thanks to some crucial decisions, and the game’s ending is rather satisfying – depending on the choices you’ve made. However, although I have been enthralled with the game’s narrative, Checkmate proved that after a number of plot twists and lengthy chinwags, it was time to wrap things up.
What does let the episode down is just how lacklustre the gameplay elements are. Puzzles from previous episodes have been well designed and can require a fair amount of lateral thinking, however in Checkmate the difficulty has been toned right down to the point where they feel almost like padding, and Confrontations feel like an excuse to chat to a number of the guests one last time rather than meaningful exchanges. Furthermore, the new ability you gained in the last episode feels fairly redundant as you’ll hardly get the chance to use it, and when you do get the opportunity to use it the game doesn’t make it feel essential to do so.
Furthermore, those niggling technical issues such as poor lip-syncing and character models looking like they’ve just dropped a couple of pingas during a big Saturday night out still haven’t been ironed out – in fact they feel more prevalent here – especially characters looking a bit off chops. These are more nuisances than issues as they hardly detract from the overall experience, besides if you’ve put up with them for the past four episodes then one more episode won’t kill you.
Looks like Louis’ has had one too many Golden Elixirs
Checkmate may not have delivered the electrifying finale that I was hoping for, but the game as a whole has been one of my highlights of the year – if not the generation – thanks to its engaging story and compelling gameplay. It reinforces the notion that story-driven single-player games are still an important cog in the video game wheel, with The Council a testament to the power of storytelling, and why as an art form it is far from dead.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher